Customer Delight Comes from Empowerment


A busy Friday morning at Colectivo Café in downtown Milwaukee had the barista team hopping. They are a small, cross-functional team adding value, over and over again for thirsty Colectivo fans. Almost my turn, I noticed most of the usual team wasn’t there. Several new (to us regulars) team members were in their place.

When it was my turn, I ordered my luscious, large hot Sportea with a lemon. The team member taking my order blinked, “We don’t make that hot. It’s an iced drink.”

“Sure, you do. I order it several times a week. It’s delicious.” I held my loyalty card and money.

She was silent, searching the register buttons for this specific item.

We lock eyes again. Having her attention, I told her how the baristas make it and how they put it through the register as an iced drink.

The great part of this moment wasn’t that I got my way, but that I could see the reasoning wash across this barista’s face. It happened quickly, so an unaware customer might not have noticed it. This is a spectacular moment of quality that leaders dream of and high performing teams strive to achieve and maintain. By the way, my hot Sportea was delightful as ever.

Dreaming of it won’t be enough to make it happen. Talking about it won’t make it happen. Empowerment makes it happen. Every team is different, but true empowerment is an absolute foundation for a high functioning team. It’s a big, glitzy word often used to bring in change, but if it’s not positioned right, it will work against you, your teams, and your change. How many times has an Agile team pushed forward, hit a speed bump, and then suffered a good old fashioned swoop-in by a leader or leaders? Empowerment is smacked out of the way, along with team morale and creativity.

Don’t think just because you have adopted Lean or Agile concepts that you have empowerment down cold. What I mean to write is, don’t assume your custom adoption to fit your company’s culture is the best way to adopt change. I offer you this very big concept, and then something you can actually do about it today. Right now, if you are willing to face the music.

How to begin? As usual with Lean and Agile, begin with asking a question. Lots of questions. Teams and leaders should have these types of conversation regularly.

A few questions for a leader to encourage team discussion:

  • Is there enough empowerment to go around?
  • What makes us self organized?
  • Who has our backs?

Taking time to keep adjusting your empowerment and your team’s empowerment grows creativity, loyalty cards, and customer delight.


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